Contemplation: Thinking, Reflecting, Meditating
“Remember, be mindful of the thoughts you think, words you speak and company you keep,” a friendly reminder from a father to his children. Dad often reminded his girls that it was in everyone’s best interest to pause for quiet contemplation and consider options and impact before taking action.
Introverts are contemplative in nature. Research confirms the brains of introverts and extroverts are stimulated differently, depending on the circumstances. It has a lot to do with dopamine, a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure systems. Introverts not only prefer peaceful solitude but need it while extroverts require more stimulation from the world in order to feel alert and awake. The physiology of the brains of introverts and extroverts are different. The good news, according to Norman Doidge, M.D., is that the human brain can change itself. The ability to contemplate can be developed if there is a desire to do so.
Look back over history and you will discover a growing list of contemplative leaders who have left legacies for positive change, these include:
- Mahatma Gandhi – Legacy: Peace/Pacifism. Leader of Indian independence movement.
Philosophy of Satyagraha, Ahimsa or nonviolence. Promoted the concept of self-rule.
- Mother Teresa – Legacy: Founder-Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic (R.C.) congregation. Managed homes for people dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis; soup kitchens; dispensaries and mobile clinics; children’s and family counselling; orphanages, and schools.
- Nelson Mandela – Legacy: After being in prison for more than 25 years, he was released and became the first black President of South Africa
- Steve Biko – Legacy: Anti-apartheid activist in South Africa (1960s and 1970s). Died while in police custody. Student leader, founder of the Black Consciousness Movement, mobilized South Africa’s urban black population. ‘Martyr’ of the anti-apartheid movement.
- Florence Nightingale – Legacy: Founder of modern nursing. Served as a manager of nurses trained by her during the Crimean War, where she organised the tending of wounded soldiers. She gave nursing a highly favourable reputation and became an icon of Victorian culture. Known as “The Lady with the Lamp” making rounds of wounded soldiers at night.
- Desmond Tutu – Legacy: First black Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa. Defends human rights, fight poverty, homophobia, racism, and sexism. Believes all humans are beloved of God and deserving of respect and forgiveness. Leader of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – Post Apartheid
- Tommy Douglas – Legacy: Programs such as Medicare, Canada’s pension plan, and bargaining rights for civil servants were first advocated by Douglas and his party. Today Canadians are grateful.
- Nano Nagel – Legacy: Founder “Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary” in Ireland. Pioneer of R.C. education in Ireland. In 2013, Pope Francis declared Nano Nagel venerable in the R.C. Church. (Note: The Presentation Sisters have served in my province, ‘Newfoundland and Labrador’ since 1833)
- Martin Luther King Jr. – Legacy: Dedicated his life to the nonviolent struggle for racial equality in the United States.
- Jesus of Nazareth – Legacy: Prince of Peace. A great teacher of moral and spiritual values.
- Gautama Buddha – Legacy: The Awakended One. A great teacher known for establishing the Dharma, or teaching, that leads to Enlightenment.
- Dalai Lama – Legacy: Head of state and spiritual leader of Buddhists around the world and of the Tibetan government-in-exile.
- Thich Nhat Hanh – Legacy: Global spiritual leader, writer, and peace activist, revered for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings on mindfulness and peace. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.
- Rumi – Legacy: Popular writer and poet in both the Islamic and Western worlds. Writings embrace all cultures, nationalities and mythologies. Followers do not feel he imposes any orthodox belief; integrates multiple religious traditions into a universal expression of Divine Love.
Breakdowns and Breakthroughs
Contemplative leaders are known for stepping up to the plate and creating breakthroughs where breakdowns have occurred. At this point in time, our world needs a few more paradigm shifters to show up . We need to create environments that will engage and encourage contemplative leaders to step forward and exert their ‘values’ driven power. Look to contempletive leaders past and present to inspire and motivate us to focus on ‘being the change’ which Gandhi referenced. Together, with the will and focused energy, we will shift limiting paradigms and begin co-creating a brighter tomorrow.
The ultimate value of life depends on awareness, and the power of contemplation rather than mere survival. – Aristotle
I have studied, read and researched the topic of leadership from many viewpoints and within all sectors for many years. One thing I have discovered is that certain leadership competencies (knowledge, skills and abilities) have been in the marketplace for decades, yet contemplation is rarely included in popular leadership and management development programs. Marrying the two terms, leadership and management, is now passé. Self-leadership in combination with spiritual, social and emotional intelligence have been creating waves.
Conducting research in this area quickly reveals the fact there is a growing interest in these overlying topics that have everything to do with people and relationships: self-leadership, people’s behavior, positive psychology, emotional, social and spiritual intelligence.
It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it. – Aristotle
Why develop a contemplative practice?
Mirabai Bush notes, “contemplative practices create space to be loving and forgiving even if the person loved or forgiven is not present or available. Such practices reveal basic unity and wholeness and remind us of what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “interbeing” or interconnection and what Merton calls the knowing that “everything that is, is holy.” Both true forgiveness (one person’s moral response to another’s injustice) and reconciliation (two parties coming together in mutual respect) are more likely when one has the contemplative appreciation that we are not separate, and that we all yearn for the same healing.”
We set great store by communal peace and harmony. Anything that subverts that harmony is injurious, not just to the community, but to all of us, and therefore forgiveness is an absolute necessity for continued human existence. – Desmond Tutu
Sageocracy: Wisdom of the Sages
Quotes Worthy of Contemplation…
What a man takes in by contemplation, that he pours out in love. – Meister Eckhart
We become what we contemplate. – Plato
Trees are good for contemplation: Plato and Aristotle did their best thinking in the groves of olives and figs around Athens and Buddha found enlightenment under a peepul tree. – Colin Tudge
The aim of art is not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance. – Aristotle
The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed. – Steve Biko
Life’s Toolkit: Potential Additions
I share the following list of books and authors, many of which I have either read or have added them to My 2017 List of Books to Read:
- Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom by Rick Hanson Ph.D
- The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity by Norman Doidge
- The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge
- SQ21: The Twenty-One Skills of Spiritual Intelligence by Cindy Wigglesworth
- Practising Spiritual Intelligence: For Innovation, Leadership and Happiness by Awdhesh Sing
- Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment―and Your Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn Ph.D.
- Guided Mindfulness Meditation: A Complete Guided Mindfulness Meditation Program from Jon Kabat-Zinn by Jon Kabat-Zinn Ph.D.
- Teachings of Rumi by Andrew Harvey
- The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
- Leadership: 50 Points of Wisdom by General Rick Hillier
- Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
- Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
- Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry
Harvard psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert used a special “track your happiness” iPhone app to gather research. The results: We spend at least half our time thinking about something other than our immediate surroundings, and most of this daydreaming doesn’t make us happy. Contemplation develops our capacity to awaken to the present moment; a focused mind can see clearly.
Poetry and Song Lyrics
Sung by A Few of My Favorite Artists
- Peter Gabriel – Shaking the Tree
- Paul Simon, Graceland
- Buffy St. Marie, It’s My Way
- Alanis Morissette, Original Album Series (5 CDs)
- Joni Mitchel, Both Sides Now
- John Lennon, The Very Best Of
- Rumi, The Essential Rumi Reissued by Coleman Barks
Contemplative leaders listen with conscious awareness. They remain open and curious as if awaiting for a gold nugget to be revealed. Leaders who contemplate have a tendency to be creative. It is in their nature to co-create visions using their values as reference points, collectively accompishing things while breaking down silos and opening closed doors. Adopting refreshing new techniques to begin dialogues comes with the territory. Living a spiritually awakened inner life, involves operating from the heart, listening to our intuition, and being sensitive to gut reactions. Humans are ‘inter-beings’ we are ‘interconnected’ (Thich Nhat Hanh). Contemplation involves being fully awake and aware of the tensions that exist between a rich inner world while living and surviving the day to day grind of the outer world. I challenge you to beome a contemplative leader. Consider adding a few of the tools and resources highlighted in this post to your toolkit for life.
Leaders and Life Strategist and In-Leaders™ Coach
Copyright © 2016 Daphne MacNeil